Good writeup, thank you!
It strikes me that the populist claim (”...that democracy has been stolen by elites, and that the people need to claim it back”) is plainly true in the US. I guess my quibble would be that there has never really been true democracy in the US; for most of our history, large groups have been excluded from democratic processes. While almost everyone can vote now, there are still large barriers to voting (e.g. it’s not a national holiday, you often have to register in advance, non-citizens can’t vote, etc.). Voting also has a lot less impact than campaign contributions and other political spending, which are obviously a factor of wealth. There was a Princeton paper that found the wealthy are many times more likely to achieve their desired policy goals (https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746). Michael Bloomberg is now trying to openly buy the presidency and might succeed.
Does the author engage substantively with this point? I’ve seen establishment academics poopoo populism, lumping together the right and left-wing versions of it.
Wonderful feedback, thanks! It’s tricky because it’s not just an EA podcast, so I have to assume many of my listeners aren’t familiar with EA. I could cover the EA side of things at the beginning of the show when it’s relevant, then tell people who are EA veterans when to skip to. Rob does this and I find it pretty helpful. I always find it interesting to hear about the personal experience of people who “stare into the abyss” for the careers (see my episode with asylum attorney Brianna Rennix). For future posts will use your title advice.
I wouldn’t consider Dave Rubin’s show intellectual, but he does have reach.
I participated in a civil disobedience direct action protesting an ICE-affiliated private detention center in Elizabeth, NJ. I was one of 36 people arrested for blocking traffic in and out of the facility (and nothing else). We spent hours traveling there, prepping for the action, blocking the road, being arrested and detained. All in, it was a full day of work for everyone involved, plus over 100 others who showed up. We raised money for a lawyer and travel expenses for people traveling for court. From an EA standpoint, this is really hard to justify. We shut down vehicle traffic from one facility for a few hours and got some press.
But, that was the first action of now nearly 40 across the country in the past 7 weeks. People have shut down the ICE HQ for hours, disrupted companies working with ICE, and got a bunch of press coverage on the horrible treatment of immigrants. It sill remains to be seen what the final result will be, but it does seem like the Trump admin has responded to popular protests in the past (the airport protests in particular). Even if this ultimately fails, a ton of young people are getting trained in activism and organizing. One of the organizers cut her teeth organizing the Women’s March. The downstream effects of getting young people involved in effective political organizing are hard to measure, but can change the course of history. Barry Goldwater lost the 1964 presidential campaign, but the young people who worked on his campaign went on to take over the Republican Party (see Rick Perlstein’s book Before the Storm if you’re interested in the story). While the org is definitely not EA, I found the organizing to be very well-thought through and effective, especially compared to other actions I’ve participated in.
For anyone curious, the group that organized this is called Never Again Action (https://www.neveragainaction.com/).
The endorsement episode was released before the election and the mini-analysis was released the day after the election, when it appeared that Caban had won. I was personally involved with the campaign and thought it would be helpful to direct anyone who was inspired by the conversation with Chloe to take a concrete action. I could redact, but agree it might be odd.
Thanks! I was doing one per week at first, but have found that to be unsustainable.
Thanks! That’s a really good idea. I definitely think there is an appetite for more EA-aligned podcasts and the barrier to entry is pretty low. I’ll work on this in the next few weeks.
What are your thoughts on the rise of left-wing politics in the US (e.g. the Sanders campaign, the election of AOC and the rest of the squad, the victories and near-victories at the local levels)? Related: how do you think EAs should think about the 2020 US presidential race?
Good point. I think the biggest way he’s changed my mind is by helping me understand the ways in which other people’s perspectives and default modes of thinking may differ. I have a tendency to see the exchange of ideas as an argument to win (partly a product of my personality, partly a product of my years doing competitive debate). Spencer’s approach in conversation, writing, and tools on Clearer Thinking emphasize the mode of discovering how other people think about the world. His work has also pushed me to examine my own bias, particularly on political issues.
Thanks for taking these things into account. I also won’t have the time to go too much deeper on this stuff. I would say a general response to relying on things like rankings of think tanks or other establishment measures of institutional credibility won’t be very persuasive to a lot of people on the left. The world is dominated by capitalist countries, companies, and institutions that support/defend them. There is a lot of money to be made in defending free markets. See Dark Money by Jane Mayer for a detailed investigation into how a handful of billionaires built alternative ideological infrastructure that became mainstream and established, despite having a self-interested, market fundamentalist ideology. The ranking you linked appears to based on surveys of other people in the establishment. If you’re broadly critical of the establishment, you don’t find their rankings to be credible. For a quick example of the Cato Institute misrepresenting data in its writing see: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/10/never-trust-the-cato-institute
For another example of ostensibly opposed think tanks working together (because they both serve the interests of capitalists) see: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2018/12/why-is-the-center-for-american-progress-betraying-the-left
Not trusting the establishment creates a lot of problems, which is why a lot of leftists (more prevalent in the past I think) believe some crackpottery and align with some cranks. The establishment may be right about a lot of things, but in some cases it’s collectively wrong and there won’t be many establishment sources you can cite to say so.
Eh, I’ve explained EA to a lot of lefties I meet and almost all of them have never heard of it, but are on board with the basics. However, my interpretation of and description of EA is pretty consistent with my lefty principles (both are extensions of radical egalitarian principles to me), and I’m sure lots of lefties would not like how market-friendly EA tends to be. I say some version of: EA is a social movement of people trying to do as much good as possible, using evidence to inform their perspective. This generally leads to people giving money to highly effective charities, giving up animal products, and prioritizing the long-term future.
Current Affairs overall is fairly amenable to EA and has a large platform within the left. I don’t think “they are a political movement that seeks attention and power” is a fair or complete characterization of the left. The people I know on the left genuinely believe that their preferred policies will improve people’s lives (e.g. single payer, increase minimum wage, more worker coops, etc.). You may disagree with their prescriptions, although based on the pro-market sources you tend to cite on these topics, you may not be interrogating your own biases enough. But if you believe what the typical DSA member does (that we know what the right policies are to address inequality and healthcare, and the only thing standing in the way of making them happen are entrenched wealthy interests), then their strategy of mobilizing large numbers of people to organize and canvass for these issues is a smart one. The EA approach to policy will only help affect things on the margin or in very technocratic roles, IMO. These things are important too, but EA has demonstrated no capability to mobilize popular support for its preferred policies.
Read the article. I can definitely see that happening and agree with the author’s ideas at the end. I’m based in NYC and the DSA here is quite big and very effective at electoral politics (e.g. AOC and hopefully Tiffany Caban). I don’t think that article proves any law of nature around lefty organizing. I do think that it illustrates a failure mode of left-wing communities (deference to identity concerns could be manipulated by bad actors). I don’t think it’s evidence that socialism is undesirable as a political project, any more so than EA’s tendency to avoid politics makes it undesirable as a social movement.
Late to the party, but after seeing a few of your posts on politics (which I find informative, especially for the papers you link), I’ve noticed that you tend to uncritically cite sources who have clear ideological commitments to market capitalism/right wing politics that are obvious from a cursory google search. For example, the book you cite on Cuba makes no mention of the US embargo on Cuba in the summary, and very little reference to it in the index. One of the authors worked at Goldman Sachs and KKR. A UN study estimated that the embargo has cost Cuba $130B (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-economy-un/us-trade-embargo-has-cost-cuba-130-billion-un-says-idUSKBN1IA00T). Cuba’s GDP per capita in PPP terms is $22.2K, more than the neighboring Dominican Republic ($19.3k) and Haiti ($1.8K) (taken from each country’s wiki page). I’m far from an expert on this and don’t know what Cuba’s GDP per capita “should” be, but based on this list, Cuba would be the 8th wealthiest country in Latin America and the Caribbean by GDP PPP per capita (out of 32).
The author of the book on Soviet agriculture, D Gale Johnson, chaired the U Chicago Econ dept, which has been the hub of libertarian Austrian economics. From his wiki “Among other notable contributions to economics, Johnson concluded that the strength of an industry depends on how the market works and not so much on government actions.”
For an alternative perspective of the economic productivity of the USSR, see chapter 5, footnote 8 of Understanding Power: the Indispensable Chomsky (http://www.understandingpower.com/files/AllChaps.pdf): “In June 1956, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles told German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer that “the economic danger from the Soviet Union was perhaps greater than the military danger.” The U.S.S.R. was “transforming itself rapidly . . . into a modern and efficient industrial state,” while Western Europe was still stagnating.” (this happened in spite of the USSR’s utter destruction during WWII).
The Economic Freedom of the World Index is published by the Cato Institute, among other libertarian/pro-market think tanks and institutes. There has been an enormous amount of propaganda produced around these questions (how well did communist governments perform economically, what economic system should we prefer). Your posts don’t appear to take this into account.
I should note that none of this is an apology for human rights abuses carried out by Castro and the USSR.
I wish I could even more strongly upvote this. I think the tension between EA and leftism is largely a product of mutual misunderstanding. In general, I think there is more overlap and room for cooperation than disagreement (particularly on things like open borders, decarceration, wealth redistribution/addressing inequality). I would encourage EAs to check out a Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) meeting in their hometown. Even if you strongly disagree with leftism/socialism, you’ll see a very different method of organizing people committed to helping others, which I have found an educational contrast with how we do things at EA NYC. DSA is great at involving lots of members in impactful local campaigns (supporting policies like universal rent control or medicare for all, organizing tenants, or supporting electoral candidates).
For the people who think that the left is disorganized and ineffective, I would encourage you to read more about the DSA’s electoral successes in the past few years (good overview of the DSA here: https://newrepublic.com/article/153768/inside-democratic-socialists-america-struggle-political-mainstream and a shorter piece by Nathan Robinson https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/05/why-i-love-the-d-s-a). Congresswomen AOC and Rashida Tlaib were DSA members and probably would not have won without the DSA’s grassroots support. Tiffany Caban is a DSA-backed public defender who has a real shot at becoming the next Queens District Attorney, an extraordinarily powerful position. Queens has over 2M people and the DA can unilaterally decide a lot of criminal justice policy in their jurisdiction. If Bernie wins the primary and general, DSA will have played a large role in turning out grassroots volunteers.
I’m not advocating that EA actively engage in political campaigns or radically change the way its local groups are structured. I just think that EAs who are interested in policy change go to some DSA events, because I think the DSA understands how political change happens far better than almost everyone I know in EA. Even if you think their priorities are dead wrong, they have been massively successful on an annual budget of less than $1m (https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/133109557).
I wrote a long piece on psychedelics for Current Affairs magazine diving into the history, economics, and potential political impact: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/04/make-america-trip-again. I don’t spend too much time on the research on psychedelic therapies (these are well covered elsewhere, particularly Michael Pollan’s book How to Change Your Mind). I also don’t take an explicitly EA approach to the piece, although I do identify with EA.
I do think that psychedelics are a massively under-explored EA topic for reasons that have been mentioned. Their ability to increase psychological openness would probably prime them for EA in addition to all the mental health benefits.
I started out in EA as an omnivore who cared primarily about global poverty/health. Over time, indirect exposure to more vegans/vegetarians and the good arguments in favor of helping animals. I became pescatarian in Jan 2018 and vegetarian about a year later. But if people had been in my face about it/made me feel unwelcome for being an omnivore at the beginning, it’s possible I wouldn’t have stuck around and gone veggie. It’s for this reason that I’m very careful about talking about the issue. It’s not that I don’t think we have a moral obligation to not consumer animal products, I’ve found that focusing on the “how” of going veg and only being candid about the moral considerations when pushed is most effective.